By Paul Nwosu
“If it happens to another person, it seems as if it happened on a tree trunk,” is a proverb from my part of the country. This literally means that you don’t feel the pain of a loss until it happens to you directly or to someone close to you. This was my sad experience on Monday, February 1, this year. As I was gathering my stuff to sign off for the day, my personal assistant rushed in, muttering, “Ewooo,” his phone glued to his ear and looking obviously agitated.
“What is it?” I asked, immediately sitting upright to know why a man I know for his candour and maturity would be crooning in pain. “Anayoo,” he intoned. “Kanayo Anwadike has just been shot and killed by suspected herdsmen at Benin bypass,” he spewed the bad news in full because he saw I was becoming impatient with the histrionics. Just like that Anayo, as we called him, was gone. A vibrant young man in his early 50s, married to my cousin. We were all together in December. He was such an amiable fellow who would spice every conversation with his hilarious banter to brighten up the companionship. He was returning from Okada where he went to drop his child at the university and, shortly after he descended into the Benin bypass, he ran into an on-going highway armed robbery that claimed his life. He was shot and killed instantly by a band of armed robbers who eyewitnesses identified as Fulani herdsmen. The same kind of herdsmen that have been terrorizing the whole of that area up to Auchi and Ondo State axis. After the robbery and killings, the culprits vamoosed into the forest with some of their victims.
Strangely, the same pattern of robbery took place again the next day, Tuesday, February 2, but further down the same Benin bypass expressway. Again, commuters were robbed, a couple of them were shot by the armed robbers to demonstrate the seriousness of their mission and some were marched into the forest, ostensibly abducted for ransom. Hardly a day passes without a gory story of the so-called bandits striking in one or more places in the country.
There are police and army checkpoints every 500 metres along the Benin bypass. Initially, I felt they constituted an impedement to the smooth flow of traffic but with the upsurge in highway banditry, it made perfect sense to even have them at every 100 metres along the notorious stretch up to Ondo State. So, why would these armed robbery attacks, killings and kidnappings persist back-to-back under the noses of these security encampments with such brazen impunity? The only answer can be that they are either complicit in the reprehensible act or, having seen the Presidency’s indifference towards the herdsmen who allegedly commit these crimes, they decided to look the other way and save their jobs or they are just too scared to chase the bandits into the forests. Many agree that the latter might just be the case, given the fact that our security agents may not want to risk the comfort of their toll-collection points in pursuit of hardened bandits who understand the forest terrain better than them.
What is striking about the highway robbery of these herdsmen is the guerilla-warfare tactics they deploy; the brazen nature of the attacks and utter disregard for human life and dignity. They are usually not in a hurry when they operate. They take their time to frisk and dispossess their victims of their money and belongings, rape the women, kill the unfortunate ones and still abduct those they would use to negotiate for ransom. There are cases where they got everything they wanted including sex, yet they executed their victims. You then begin to wonder the sense in all this. Are these human beings or just animals in human skin? When they operate, vehicles coming from the opposite side and rear that have been forewarned are compelled to stand off for long hours before they can recommence their journey amid trepidation.
The modus operandi of these bandits sharply contrasts with the regular armed robbers we used to know. Those ones operate in the cities and urban areas looking for banks, markets and robust targets where the heist would be worth the outing. They operate with some degree of anxiety and fear. As normal human beings, they understand the risk they are taking. They know that their operations could be interrupted by police and they may either lose their lives or go to jail. And where their operations are successful, they just flee in their vehicles. They don’t dissolve into the forest like the new variants of armed robbers that we now see.
This guerilla robbery attacks are not restricted to highways. Community farmlands have not been spared as they have long been continually ravaged by Fulani herdsmen. They damage farmers’ crops with impunity and those who dare to confront them are slaughtered, their women raped and their communities burnt to the ground. There is a litany of cases where indigenous people from these communities now live in different internally displaced people’s camps across the country. To be allowed to return to their farms, their tormentors collect tolls from them. We are in the middle of a full-blown internecine war without probably knowing it. Meanwhile, our President, like Emperor Nero of the ancient Roman Empire, fiddles while his country is on fire.
In spite of the attempt by Bauchi State governor and some northern spin doctors to justify why Fulani herdsmen should carry AK47 and do what they are doing, the truth is beginning to seep out from the northern intelligentsia. The information is such that every right-thinking security agency should chew on because it has helped to put the mindless nature of some of these crimes in their proper context. Some northern elite of the Fulani stock have revealed that most of the killer herdsmen are foreign mercenaries, but Fulani as well, from neighbouring countries like Mali, Niger, Chad and Cameroun. They responded to the local Fulani’s solicitations for assistance to help invade and break the resistance of the local farmers so that their cattle could graze freely. Following this invitation, they poured into the country unhindered and this has manifested in the brutal killings, rape and decimation of agrarian communities across the country, with the prospect of imminent food shortage. We would recall that President Donald Trump’s administration cited our inability to track the indiscriminate in-flow of immigrants, making it difficult to determine who is a terrorist and who is not, as a reason for banning the issuance of visas to Nigerians.
Since these foreign Fulani are not into cattle business even though it is their cultural vocation to rear cattle, they resort to armed robbery, killing, raping and kidnapping for ransom.
They ply their newfound trade in the most vicious manner that is devoid of any iota of emotion. This is understandable because they are coming from very poor and austere countries to a comparative Eldorado where all they need to do is to point guns at travellers and they would surrender their cash and sundry belongings to them, and if that is not enough they march some of the commuters, like heifers, into the forest to extort more money from their relatives. And because they’re not Nigerians, they don’t care about the bad blood their activities could create between their local Fulani brethren and their other compatriots as well as the threat to national security.
But in a recent reaction, Professor Usman Yusuf, a Fulani, discountenanced any buck-passing on the issue. In a rare admittance of guilt by a northern elite, the professor of haematology-oncology in a Saturday Sun interview owned up that, “We are not denying that these people you call bandits are Fulani like myself; they are not from foreign Fulani as some people are saying. No, they are Fulani from here. We are against what they are doing – the crimes of kidnapping, rape and killing.”
He explained that was why Sheik Gumi has undertaken to visit many of the bandits’ camps in the forests to counsel and pray with them. He insisted that it’s only negotiation that will reverse the ugly trend and not military action. The erudite scholar then calls for amnesty to be granted the bandits just like it was done to the Niger Delta militants. He refused to appreciate that the two cases are different, arguing that both groups are fighting for justice. Prof got it wrong there. The militants were fighting for the control of the oil resource in their domain, which is being exploited to the detriment of their own environment. They were fighting against the marginalization, neglect and disenfranchisement of their people. They were unhappy because the Niger Delta, the source of the country’s wealth, was wallowing in abject poverty, environmental degradation and underdevelopment. It is, therefore, mischievous for Professor Yusuf to compare Niger Delta militants with Fulani bandits. The former fought for justice while the latter are the actual purveyors of injustice, spreading the worst kind of injustice among their fellow Nigerians.
How can anybody in his right mind describe armed robbers, rapists and kidnappers as fighting for justice? How can a right-thinking man hold the view that justice is when you destroy other people’s farms, their means of livelihood, with your cows and turn around to kill them, rape their women, kidnap the rest as well as burn their communities to the ground? Such views amount to intellectual dishonesty. And this is an indication that we still have a long way to go in this country.
Professor Yusuf also denied that government has done anything for the Fulani in the past 60 years, no hospital, school, electricity, borehole, nothing.
“They have never received their fair share in this country,” he concluded. Incidentally this is the same line that Sheik Abubakar Gumi, the Islamic scholar, has toed, going by the recent interview he granted the media. He even blamed the media for being part of the reason the bandits are holding the entire country hostage. It is a pity these two high-ranking scholars whose opinions matter in the North are displaying this bizarre signs of dementia. They want to eat their cake and have it at the same time. But life is not like that. You must necessarily choose one.
The postulations by the two eminent scholars defeat the all-familiar arguments the northern elites had always spinned forth in defence of the nomadic culture of the Fulani. In one breath they would argue for the preservation of the ancient nomadic culture, which is the reason they support the invasion of people’s farmlands and resist cattle ranching. In another breath they tell you they deserve all the modern amenities that fixed settlements attract, which is now the case. This is the same argument you hear anytime the issue of the almajiri system, which is now the raw material for terrorism, is broached. They are quick to remind you it’s a religious tradition that must not be tampered with; meanwhile, their children are studying in Ivy League institutions outside the country. Not until the COVID-19 scourge commingled with the nuisance of massive street begging did northern governors realize they had to send the street kids back to their biological parents.
For clarity, there has been no time in the history of this country that the nomadic culture of the Fulani has not been a source of concern to subsisting governments. Since they are averse to modern civilization, the immediate post-colonial governments mapped grazing routes to enable their cattle graze freely without interfering with farming activities. But we are living in a continuously changing world that cannot wait for the Fulani herdsman and his archaic nomadic vocation. Population growth and urban expansion have long constricted those routes, resulting in Fulani cattle trespassing on private farmlands and destroying peoples means of livelihood.
In 1989, the Federal Government established the National Commission for Nomadic Education. The aim was to avail the estimated 9.3 million nomadic children the opportunity to have basic education. But the programme failed in part because of the incessant migration of the pupils. Incidentally, government is always grappling with limited resources and cannot possibly cope with mobile classrooms and the attendant human resources that would make them functional, real time. To tell ourselves the truth, nomadic culture has become incongruous with modernity and it is only a developed state that can afford to sustain them, not necessarily because of the quality of beef they offer but as a tourist attraction. Modern ranch management and animal husbandry has long eclipsed trekking animals over long distances in search of green pastures.
As recent as 2019, President Goodluck Jonathan spent N15 billion to build modern schools for the almajiri to reduce child begging on the streets of northern states and integrate them into the basic primary education system. The programme failed because the schools were not used. Some of the structures became homes to the destitute, while others were converted to mosques. Meanwhile, these are the same people Prof. Yusuf accuses the Nigerian state of marginalising.
Sheik Gumi and Prof. Yusuf are unwittingly encouraging banditry by spreading falsehood and disinformation. These bandits would begin to see themselves as victims of state persecution. Rather than stoking the embers of further discord, Gumi should be advised to continue with his laudable orientation campaigns at these bandits’ camps to make them embrace his religious teachings and, most importantly, peace. He should teach them to see the inevitability of ranching, as population growth and expansion can no longer brook animal trekking. As an enlightened man, he should tell them in the language they understand that they are living in a steadily progressive world. This is why things are not the way they were 100 or 200 years ago. And if they don’t move with the trend, they would be left behind and they would only have themselves to blame. Even revisionists like him and Yusuf cannot do anything about it. As men of integrity, they should simply stand by the truth.
Federal Government should begin to take the issue of migration into the country seriously. No country throws its borders open to foreigners to troop in unfettered. The consequences could be hydra-headed, such that is capable of compromising national security. Our northern borders are notorious for their porousness and the influx is not exclusive to human beings but also mercantile cargoes hauled into the country at will. This was the situation during the pandemic lockdown when southern borders were locked watertight. As if to damn the concerns of Nigerians, the Federal Government has gone ahead with the trans-border railway line that will terminate in Niger Republic, giving the flimsy excuse that it will facilitate trade with both countries. Indeed! What trade can both countries engage that could be of benefit to Nigeria? Such misguided benevolence is only suggestive that the indiscriminate inflow of people (herdsmen inclusive) from that part of the country might have the tacit endorsement of the topmost hierarchy of our government.
It’s about time the Nigerian Immigration Service were better empowered to check immigration into the country and go after illegal foreigners who have already found their way here. The southern part of the country is almost saturated with elements from the Sahel who are obviously not Nigerians.
Government should live up to its responsibility of protecting life and property because it currently seems it has abdicated its responsibility in this regard considering the degree of killings outside of the main theatre of the war against Boko Haram.
Security agencies should be retooled and retrained as a matter of urgency. Our police in particular still appear to be dazed and yet to recover from the aftermath of #EndSARS rampage. It is also the time to rev up their morale by bringing on board a young and vibrant officer to run their affairs and stop patronizing a man who has served out his term. There is no way he can now perform the magic that
he couldn’t do in all his valid tenure. Government should save itself the distractible wrangling of litigants who have already challenged the IGP’s tenure elongation in court.
•Nwosu writes from Atani, Anambra State